The NELA River Collaborative project builds upon the growing momentum of efforts already underway to transform the Los Angeles River into a "riverfront district" and to create a focal point of community revitalization. For more information on the collaborative visit www.mylariver.org
Angelenos may be celebrating the increased awareness and activity along the Los Angeles River, but residents of Atwater Village worry that these projects unfolding right in their backyards are adding stress to an already overloaded system.
According to Alex Ventura, Environmental and Land Use Chair of the neighborhood council, this problem has been seething under the surface for quite some time now, but the recent push for a recreational zone in the Glendale Narrows has finally sparked the need to take action. He personally feels that recent public meetings have only asked for the neighborhood's token participation, not really allowing them to contribute meaningfully. "We have all these outside groups looking at the river and somehow our community is out of the loop. We're not being contacted. I think we're just getting lost in the shuffle," he said.
While all the attention has been on the progressive steps federal, state and county agencies have had in re-integrating the river back into Los Angeles, fulfilling simple requests for maintenance along the river is still a labyrinthine undertaking, said Ventura. "Adding trash cans, having gates or entrances fixed, that's always a challenge."
Ventura is referring to the many agencies one has to cull through to get basic matters accomplished. Depending on where exactly along the river you are, the jurisdiction may fall under the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Public Works, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, any of the 13 city council districts, and the list goes on.
In contrast, he says filming along the Los Angeles River is so much easier. "If you want to film on a river, the city of Los Angeles has a streamlined planning department for that. They coordinate everything for you. But you can't do that if you want a trash can."
Aside from cleanliness, residents also deal with vagrancy, gang activity, graffiti, and other illicit activities. Current projects such as the proposed recreational use of Glendale Narrows and the upcoming construction of the North Atwater Bridge only address those issues tangentially. They may even cause additional problems. Residents worry the influx of visitors mean bad news, especially when current parking and maintenance facilities aren't equipped to handle the additional foot traffic.
The document further suggests the development of a single entity to act as a funnel for all the river-related matters. "There are so many departments (Federal, State, City), districts, non-profit groups, studies (Federal, State, City). A single entity would foster better relation with river entities and its bordering communities," states the resolution.
To be clear, the council isn't asking for one agency to rule them all, so to speak, but one body that could help ease them along the tangled legislative processes that have grown around the river. "Maintenance is an issue," said Ventura, "and we get no traction because everyone points the finger at someone else."
Lots of agencies mean lots of mixed messages. "You go to a meeting and they're telling you one thing, then you go to another meeting and they tell you another. You don't know who's steering the ship. What do you think is going to happen when some major corporation wants to build something along the river?"
Despite its bold request, the idea isn't something new. A decade ago, the same concerns were raised by locals, but it seems time are slow to change. The issues expressed in this 2003 Los Angeles Times article still ring today.
"The idea that they're asking for this is music to our ears," says Tony Perez of the Ad Hoc River Committee. "Ten years ago, we wouldn't have thought anyone would be interested in this advocacy. People are beginning to look at the river as an asset and they want to be part of it."
At the moment, Perez says there are a lot of moving parts in re-integrating the Los Angeles River to the community, and much of the organization has been building around it organically. "But we don't see those different elements as a bad thing," Perez says. Although there is a lot of activity going on, they're only at the beginning stages of 20 to 30 year process. "This is going to be part of the growing pains of the river," he says.
He suggested that a good first step for neighborhood councils is to approach their their council office.
The document was sent out to a myriad agencies along the river, including the Office of the Mayor; the Ad Hoc River Committee; the offices of Council District 1, 4, 14, 13; the Bureaus of Engineering and Sanitation; the Departments of City Planning, Recreation and Parks, Transportation, and Water and Power; the Army Corps, as well as non-profits working along the river. Only one of the entities has responded so far.
Before we see more projects grow around the river, is it time to have one centralized agency that will help Angelinos sort out the multiple layers of authority? Or should the city keep building organically? What are your thoughts on work along the Los Angeles River?
Top: Atwater Vilage pedestrian bridge over the L.A. River. Photo by audelising used under a Creative Commons license.